Editor’s Note: On the birth date of the Mahatma, let us try and remember the good that he stood for. Our member sureshmiyer tells us more. What do you think he stood for? Share your thoughts with us here.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is a forgotten man. He was largely misunderstood by the people of India. Maybe, Gandhi preferred to be like that. He was like an open book and was not averse to criticism. Only Gandhi could have commanded the power to galvanize the whole nation into action against the Imperial British Raj. Gandhi had no organized syndicate nor did he plan his moves. He followed the slogan ‘Ekla Chalo’. It was not with the promise of power or fortune that he had summoned his followers to his banner, but with a warning “Those who are in my company must be ready to sleep upon the bare floor, wear coarse clothes, get up at unearthly hours, subsist on uninviting simple food, and even clean their toilets.” 

Gandhi was an extremely shy man, but Africa proved to be a training ground for this shy lawyer who was inspired by John Ruskin’s Unto This Last and haunted by the Bhagavad-Gita Gita’s doctrine of renunciation of desire and attachment to material possessions. He took Brahmacharya at the age of 37. Henry Thoureau’s essay On Civil Disobedience and Leo Tolstoy’s The Kingdom of God is Within You deeply inspired him. The determination of this man was evident when he landed in India with a thick bundle of paper covered with Gandhi’s handwritten prose. Its title was Hind Swaraj.


Gandhi was impressed by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, their discipline, complete absence of untouchability and rigorous simplicity and their art of self defense. He claimed to be a Sanatani Hindu. No one knew the accurately the origin of the word Hindu. The name was given to us and we had characteristically adopted it. Gandhi held that Hinduism had absorbed the best of all the faiths of the world and in that sense it was not exclusive religion. Hence, it could not have quarrel with Islam or its followers. Gandhi questioned if one part went mad and did ugly deeds, was the other part to follow suit? There was no gain in returning evil for evil. Religion taught us to return good for evil. Religions are not for separating men from one another, they are meant to bind them.

Unfortunately, some Hindu leaders, who considered themselves as revolutionaries saw him as a necessary evil and eliminated him. To their horror, they realized that Gandhi achieved much more in death than he could have ever thought had he lived. It united the whole of India and bound them together.

Gandhi understood that the true value of freedom lay in awakening of the Indian masses. He launched a crusade to get villagers to use latrines instead of the open fields, to improve hygiene and health by practicing cleanliness, to fight malaria, to set up simple village schools for their off-spring, to preach Hindu Muslim harmony; in short an entire programme to regenerate India’s rural life. Gandhi regularly consecrated half an hour a day to spinning and forcing his followers to do likewise. The spinning ritual became a quasi-religious ceremony; the time devoted to it, an interlude of prayer and contemplation. The Mahatma began to murmur: ‘Rama, Rama, Rama’ in rhythm to the click-click-click of the spinning wheel. Splashing through ankle-deep mud and water, on precarious, rock-strewn paths, sleeping endless nights on the wooden planks of India’s third-class railway carriages, Gandhi traveled to the remotest corners of India, preaching his message. It was an extraordinary spectacle from a Great Soul who spoke to the hearts of the people of India


He wrote much of his correspondence himself in long hand and he talked to his disciples in prayer meetings. He wrote from his heart in clear and direct language. His primitive communicative methods had penetrated a nation bereft of modern communications because Gandhi had a genius for the simple gesture that spoke to India’s soul. 

His Spartan kit consisted of a pen and a paper, his spinning-wheel and his three gurus, a little ivory representation of the three monkeys who ‘hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.’, the Bhagavad-Gita, the Koran, the Practice and Precepts of Jesus and a book of Jewish thoughts. 


To the astonishment of a watching British nation, Mahatma Gandhi walked into Buckingham Palace to take tea with the King Emperor dressed in a loincloth and sandals. His famous remark after the meeting ‘the king was wearing enough for both of us’ was legendary. Truth, to Gandhi was the ultimate reality. Gandhi’s truth, however, had two faces, the absolute and the relative. Gandhi liked to employ a parable to illustrate the difference between his two truths. Put your left hand in a bowl of ice-cold water, then in a bowl of luke-warm water, he would say. The lukewarm water feels hot. Then put the right hand in a bowl of hot water and in the same bowl of lukewarm water and into the same bowl of lukewarm water. Now the lukewarm water feels cold; yet its temperature is constant. The absolute truth is the water’s constant temperature, he would observe, but the relative truth, perceived by the human hand, varied. That made him flexible and confused the British.


Gandhi believed that when the poison of untouchability entered Hinduism, the decline began. Gandhi realized that the greatest barrier to the mobilization of Hindus towards the freedom struggle was the caste system. According to Vedic scripture, caste originated with Brahma, the Creator, Brahmins, the highest caste, sprang from his mouth, Kshatriyas, warriors and rulers, from his biceps; Vaishyas, traders and businessmen from this thighs; Sudras, artisans and craftsmen, from his feet. Below them were the outcasts, the Untouchables, who had not sprung from divine soul. Gandhi was the natural mass leader who could lead the people through the doors of a free India. No man was ever more tolerant, more genuinely free of any taint of religious prejudice than Gandhi. He desperately wanted to associate the women, the untouchables and the Muslims with every phase of his freedom movement. There were various stories about Gandhiji’s sensual life, it being the impression that Gandhi had ceased to be a saint. However, Gandhi never kept anything secret and enjoyed the confidence of many sisters, European and Indian in his social movement.


However, Gandhi supported the caste system or Varnashram. He argued that the moment untouchability goes, the caste system will be purified, that is to say, four divisions of society, each complementary of the other and none inferior or superior to any other, each as necessary for the whole body of Hinduism as any other. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar differed from Gandhi and held that untouchability cannot go without the destruction of Varnashrama. I am inclined to agree with the views of Dr.B.R. Ambedkar but respect Gandhi’s tireless efforts to uplift the status of the Untouchables or Harijans as quoted by him.


When India was burning due to intense Hindu-Muslim hatred, Gandhi’s simple and forceful methods restored sanity and peace among the people in Noakhali and Calcutta. Mahatma Gandhi was the one man who came in the way of partition of India. Perhaps, it was only Gandhi, who walked through the length and breadth of the country and knew the pulse of the people realized that it was humanly impossible to separate the Muslims throughout the rest of India. Despite his archrival Jinnah’s claims for a separate state of Pakistan, the fact is that the second largest Muslim population in the world lives in India as Indians. The kings and princess who ruled various parts of India with many wives, harems, prostitutes, mistresses and rode in elephants and Rolls Royces and indulged in hunting pleasures at the cost of the common man were another hindrance in the way of the dream of a truly united India, as envisaged by Mahatma Gandhi where every citizen will have a right to resources.


Gandhi was so pained by the partition of India that he remarked before the crowd in a prayer meeting at Calcutta, ‘From tomorrow, we shall be delivered from the bondage of British rule. But from midnight today, India will be partitioned too. Tomorrow will be a day of rejoicing, but it will be a day of sorrow as well.’ Sadly, the vicious propaganda unleashed by the critics of Gandhi has led many of the young generation that Gandhi was solely responsible for the partition of India. No one understood Hinduism better than Gandhi, but he was accused of being partial to Hindus. Several Muslims too regarded him as their enemy. Gandhi hated his eldest son converting to Islam out of self-interest and consideration. The pompous followers of Islam immediately telegraphed to Gandhi thus, “Expect like your son you truth-seeker to embrace Islam truest religion of the world.” It hurt Gandhi as according to him, conversion is a matter between man and his Maker who alone knows his creatures’ hearts. And conversion without a clean heart is a denial of God and religion.


‘Beware of power’ Gandhi warned a group of politicians who came to seek his blessing, ‘power corrupts. Do not let yourselves be entrapped by its pomp and pageantry. Remember you are in office to serve the poor in India’s villages.’


People may consider his principle of non-violence as an act of cowardice. However, according to Gandhi, Ahimsa is the highest ideal and is meant for the brave, never for the weak and cowardly. To benefit by others’ killing and delude oneself into the belief that one is being very religious and non-violent is sheer self-deception. It is impossible to eschew violence completely. Non-violence does not mean making peace. On the other hand, it means fighting bravely and sincerely for truth and doing what is just. Like all fights, there will be a terrible loss and pain.


Gandhi was in favor of formation of a non-violent localized Peace Brigade respectful of all faiths, whose members would risk their lives in dealing with riots, especially communal. He held that such a Peace Brigade will do wonders than even the Police and the military. Today’s Mohalla committees are a reflection of his ideas.


The principles advocated by Mahatma Gandhi may not be in touch with the modern world but his remark that “a people with full refrigerators, stuffed clothes, cupboards, a car in every garage and a radio in every room, could be psychologically insecure and morally corrupt” is equally true. In this modern world in which we live, a man has hundreds of facebook friends but interacts very little with his neighbors and even his close relatives. The doors of his flat today and his minds are closed.


Gandhi did not believe in alopathic treatment and Birth control methods. I differ from him in this respect. However, he has a great regard for the role of women in Indian society. Gandhi held that the natural qualities of her sex, the upbringing meted out to her because of her sex and her environment which is created because of her sex, all are against her. He wanted women to be happy in the state to which they are born and do the duty for which nature has destined them. He held that the right education in this country is to teach women the art of saying no even to her husband, to teach her it is no part of her duty to become a mere tool or doll in her husband’s deeds. She has rights as well as duties.


He considered Education to be liberating rather than as a means of earning jobs. He preferred education to be imparted in mother tongue. Knowledge should be shared rather than garnered for self pursuits. Indians are addicted to English for higher education. No Japanese or German feels as helpless as we Indians seem to do.


Gandhi felt that whilst capital in India is fairly organized, labour is still in a more or less disorganized condition in spite of unions and their federations. Therefore, it lacks the power that true combination gives. Moreover, it lacks intelligence, so much so that individuals fight against individuals, unions against unions.


“Earn thy bread by the sweat of thy brow,” says be Bible. Gandhi held that if all laboured for their bread and no more, and then there would be enough food and enough leisure for all. According to Gandhi, Men generally hesitate to make a beginning if they feel that the objective cannot be had in its entirety. Such an attitude of mind is in reality a bar to progress. He did not believe in communist policies but believed in trusteeship. The rich man will be left in possession of his wealth, of which he will use what he reasonably requires for his personal needs and will act as trustee for the remainder to be used for the society. In this argument, honesty on the part of the trustee is assumed. Though I feel difficult to accept this argument of Gandhi, I appreciate his honest and forthright views on socialism.


Gandhi believed in the reform, not destruction of the temples. For the Bhagavat says, ‘wherever people meet and utter His name from their hearts, there God dwells, there is His temple.’ While Gandhi held that Harijans themselves do not want temple entry and that they want only betterment of their economic and political condition, Temple entry is the one spiritual act that would constitute the message of freedom to the untouchables and assure them that they are not out-castes before God.


According to Gandhi, opinion of a majority must prevail. If it did not, it would amount to coercion of a majority by a minority. Gandhi felt that the biggest evil that is afflicting society today is that everyone is talking of his rights. If all simply insist on rights and no duties, there will be utter confusion and chaos. Rights that do not flow directly from duty well performed are not worth living. A wretched parent who claims obedience from his children without first doing his duty by them excites nothing but contempt. Same applies for a husband towards his dutiful wife. The government will rule by the right of service, of greater wisdom. They will then have the right to collect taxes paid and expect certain services rendered, not for themselves, but for the sake of the people under their care.


Thanks to the vision of Gandhi, India did not follow the way of a totalitarian country like China which treats its people and labourers like robots but went on to become one of the World’s greatest democracy. His vision may be out of place with the current world but will keep on reminding us on the path that we should undertake towards real development.